Al Fresco Apercu: Who will save your Soul, if you won’t save your Own?

Its 6:00 o’clock Wednesday morning and I haven’t had my cup of coffee to wash away a fitful night of sleeplessness.  Tightrope walking in the midst of torrential winds, earthquakes and hurricanes are my normal for these past 11 years. Maybe I am overstating my athletic abilities to make a point. But what I do know to be true awaits me downstairs once again. I will walk into a messy kitchen of plates, bowls, glasses, and used coffee filters lining the sink, counters and table even though I cleaned the kitchen the night before.  The disruptive guests who have turned my home upside down is my son Dave along with his cyclical psychosis. Both have come for a visit.  The heavy thud of his feet moving about the rooms downstairs, wood floors squeaking and groaning measuring time with his patterns of anxious pacing are all part of his schizoaffective disorder. Up and down the stairs, doors opening and closing, in and out of the house smoking countless cigarettes and drinking endless cups of coffee keep him busy while negotiating with the relentless cacophony of voices in his head. So too, Dave’s cyclical psychosis and manic behaviors are impatiently demanding me to wake up.  I’m Dave’s Mom, and for me, it’s just another day at the O.K. Corral. 

Its been over 11 years and one would think, I have all his scenarios down pat. You’d think I am a pro at this adventure faraway from normal expectations of a son’s future into the outliers of unanticipated motherhood.  The unspoken promise of raising a healthy son to realize his dreams and ambitions we dream for them during childhood into adulthood have been altered by a flip of a switch in the brain. His life ambitions have been rearranged, recalculated, and refitted with one dream, to find moments of calmness, free from the pain of negative feelings, thoughts and voices about himself.

Dave’s ambitions are no longer about becoming an electrical engineer.  A family of his own. A home to call his own. A career and all that comes with it. No, the dream he seeks today is a quiet mind. This is his daily goal. His idea of happiness is experiencing momentary peace with no thoughts or voices judging him.

My life ambitions have been altered too. Not because I feel responsible, guilt or any of those self-inflicted, sacrificial, poor me, undeserving woes of bitterness. No, I choose this adventure because it is the right thing to do. Hard is never easy. I tell myself, the rewards are in the lessons learned during this lifetime. For now, I am Dave’s guide, teacher and student as he is mine. Barbara De Angelis says life, here on our planet Earth, is a classroom, and we signed up as students to learn about ourselves.  Maybe I’m fishing for answers, but I’m sure she’s right, this is not Club Med. Today, like so many days in the past 11 years,  I am learning about my self-imposed limitations. Where I am weak, what areas I need to grow emotional muscle, spiritual grace, endurance and strength of the body mind and divine soul. I ask myself, who will I become? Barbara defines this transformative path of authentic awakening as Soul Shifts.

Slowly walking downstairs,  I remind myself he’s been fighting throughout the night. Fighting for his sanity while his brain’s dysfunctional neuropathways and chemistry play relentless games of self-inflicted negative voices and thoughts of unworthiness.  Calming myself, I remember to stop holding my breath, to breathe slowly and deeply,  seeking calmness, love and strength. I am hopeful for a good outcome. Simply, he’s happy I’m here with him. Incorporating mindfulness and yoga techniques, I tell myself to not engage in his high anxiety or allow him to compromise my emotional well-being. Nor be dragged into his emotional maelstrom and manipulations knowing Dave’s all too familiar patterns of calculated maneuverings have evolved over time. His goal at times- seems to be finding a chink in my resolve to evaluate, listen and calm him. Unfortunately, there are times he finds solace in piercing my therapeutic intentions. Today, I will try my best in helping him navigate his illness without being dragged down his rabbit hole.

“Who will save your soul, if you won’t save your own?,”  Jewel’s voice sings in my head as I walk downstairs to witness Dave’s other self.

Dave has his own place but comes home often, especially when he needs a safe place. I’m his safe place. I’m the Go-to-Mom. This is who I am and why I’m not easy. I don’t have that luxury. I wish I did. I wish for many things but I don’t get that choice. Instead, I care and try to figure out how to calm him, redirect his thinking, and try to stay positive. Hoping he won’t flip and injure himself or that I’m the target. Believe me, I’m no saint. There are many a time of wanting to runaway with a back pack- anywhere but here. To be selfish and do what’s best for me. But I don’t run because I know he’s in pain trying to cope. I monitor where his head’s at and if I need backup. I call it survival mode, and why I overthink. The good news is his commitment to taking his medications. That’s a giant step in the maintenance of his emotional and physical health. I usually don’t share these intimate details about my life, about Dave, with anyone other than my family and closest friends.

Dave has three siblings. They are busy with their lives, working and creating their own families. Its hard for them. Its hard witnessing their brother’s daily fight with the unseen voices and thoughts.  Outwardly, Dave looks healthy, strong and capable. The disconnect between the mind, emotional center, spirit and physical body is difficult to understand for most people who haven’t personally lived or known someone close to them. How do I explain how it feels committing my son to the psych ward? What its like monitoring Dave for suicidal thoughts versus potential actions? Fortunately, these are the exceptions and not the rule. Dave wants to live a healthy life with a calm mind. What I can say about these experiences- they are never the same.  They are the bridges I cross on this journey of the unknown. I am thankful for my son TJ who has often been the go-to-brother supporting Dave in those bleak hospital admittance moments with love, kindness and empathy.

Due to misunderstood fears about brain chemistry and neuropathways dysfunction negatively labelled as ‘mental illness,’ I have lost friends, family who’s grown distant, and relationships which have slowly melted away over the years.  Life is not simple. 

There are days, like today I look around asking who will catch me if I fall?  Where’s my safe harbor? “Who will save your soul, if you won’t save your own?” 

There are good days, and then there are these days. I am grateful for my family and friends who stand strong by me on those blow-me-down hurricane days. A supportive phone call often renews me. Words of kindness and strength to persevere gives me strength and courage in this journey with Dave.  My sister Cate is my support on those real bad days at Black Rock.

I am thankful for my weird sense of humor, often my saving grace. I am grateful for my stubbornness. I’m not a quitter. I’m not a saviour. Dave is my son and a life long commitment. He drives me nuts at times with his neediness and manipulative ways. But his innate sensitivity, humor and intelligence are his winning qualities I cling to during his manic episodes.

There are days I dream of running. The wilderness of Montana skies and the serenity of mountains and glaciers stirs my heart and imagination. But I know this journey with Dave is the real deal. And one of our more difficult climbs toward the summit on our enduring journey into the wilderness.

Names have been changed to protect their privacy